Looking at today’s news, it’s pretty clear that the Prime Ministership is Peter Costello’s for the asking. We have two senior ministers, Downer and Turnbull giving non-denial denials to claims that they want Howard out. That means there have to be enough numbers for a serious challenge. That in turn means that Howard’s position is untenable, if such a challenge is made. Howard might win a party-room vote, but he would be doomed at the election even if he did. By contrast, Costello would have a chance. The remorseless logic of game theory now implies that anyone who cares about keeping their seat should support the challenger, and try to force Howard to bow out gracefully.
But Howard has made it clear he won’t do this in the absence of an overt challenge from Costello. He judges, on the basis of past experience that Costello won’t have the bottle*, and that facing the challenge down gives him a chance to present himself as a strong leader in the contest with Rudd.
* I had various thoughts about the origin of this term for nerve/guts. A quick search of the Internet found support for all my ideas and quite a few I hadn’t thought of. It looks as if it will remain a mystery.